In The Cave, you’ll choose three characters – from a possible seven – to descend the depths of an ancient and mysterious cave, each of them in search of something they desire above all else. This is no ordinary ancient and mysterious cave, however: The Cave happens to be alive, watching their every move, narrating their stories, doling out wisdom and mockery in equal measure. What could his true motive possibly be? He’s not telling. “Mysterious” just means “not telling”.
Depending on which characters you choose, you’ll puzzle your way through a Victorian mansion, a museum from the far future, a desert island, a nuclear missile silo, and much more… all buried deep within The Cave. See? We’re being mysterious too!
Double Fine should be known by most gamers out there, partly because Tim Schafer, one of the creative heads behind timeless legends like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Brütal Legend, is head of the studio. Just a short while ago, the guys from Double Fine brought Costume Quest to PSN and now we can look forward to their next downloadable title: Stacking, which lets you play with those famous Russian figurines called Matryoshka dolls.
Interestingly, each Matryoshka doll has its own power and if you jump in another Doll with the one you are currently playing, you get to use the new doll’s power. This alone gives you plenty of scope for unique puzzles and hours upon hours of funny gameplay, thanks to the standard and tone of storytelling that we expect from Double Fine. We recently spoke to Lee Petty, Project Lead for Stacking and Art Director at Double Fine, about his vision for Stacking.
Why matryoshkas? Who came up with this idea?
When I set out to design Stacking, I knew that I wanted to make a contemporary version of the classic adventure game. I was looking for a way to distill the adventure game experience down to a more approachable, compact experience without losing the charm and character driven story telling of the classic adventure games.
At the same time, I saw my daughter playing with a set of matryoshkas, and I realized that they would be a perfect way to create a new game mechanic, condense the experience, and add a unique personality to the game. The matryoshaka dolls became the verbs, the inventory, and the characters that the player interacts with to solve puzzles.
Will Stacking tell a story or did you focus on the puzzle aspect of the game?
We wanted to both tell a compelling story and also focus on interesting puzzles. Stacking follows the story of Charlie Blackmore, the world’s smallest stacking doll on his quest to save and reunite his family from an evil industrialist known only as The Baron. The puzzles that the player solves put Charlie one step closer to saving his family.
I saw a funny trailer of the game which was, as far as I noticed, mainly set in a train-station-scenery. Is this train-station a single level in the game? How big will these levels be?
The Royal Train Station is the first environment that the player encounters and acts as a ‘hub world’ for the game. Players will board various trains from the train station to travel to all of the other locations in Stacking.
The player will return to the train station several times throughout the game, and each time the train station will have new challenges to solve and new areas to explore.
The levels are constructed in such a way to let the player solve the puzzles in the order that they want. The levels are large, but not expansive spaces where the player will get lost or become uninterested. We wanted to create lots of detail in the environments for the player to find and appreciate.
How many levels will the game contain?
The game contains the Royal Train Station, three additional full levels (each set in a unique location), and one ‘final challenge’ area (also set in a unique location). Players can also make return visits to any of these locations. The game also features a rich game over state, where the player can freely move throughout the entire game to complete all of the optional gameplay, such as collecting unique dolls or finding additional solutions to challenges. In addition, several bonus challenges appear in the levels after the primary playthrough has been completed.
The trailer speaks about different levels of difficulty. How will these be felt in the game? Will there be totally different puzzles depending on the difficulty settings?
We approached game difficulty differently than most games. All of our puzzles (or “challenges”, as we call them) have multiple solutions. The player is only required to do one of the solutions to move the story along, but is rewarded for finding additional solutions. The solutions vary in difficulty from easy to hard.
This means that a casual player can choose to find only one of the solutions for a challenge and move forward with the game. However, a more core player can choose to find more solutions at any time — including the hardest solutions. This approach allows the player to focus on more difficult solutions if a particular puzzle interests them, but doesn’t force them to grind on a puzzle that they’d rather be done with.
Once again you are working on a download only title. Did Costume Quest convince you of this format?
Not specifically, since we started all four of our download only titles at the same time. However, we have been encouraged by Costume Quest’s success and are excited to continue moving forward with this method of making games.
Tim Schafer has a huge fan base which loves him just for being Tim Schafer. What role does Tim have in the games from Double Fine Productions these days? Is he sitting in his office, sending “awesomeness-waves” of inspiration through the building or is he involved in the whole development process?
Tim is the creative force behind the studio and has a lot of influence over the games. His direct involvement with each game varies. In the case of Stacking, Tim and I designed several of the puzzles and developed a lot of the major story beats together.
Tim also likes to patrol the team areas and beat people with reeds when they make eye contact.
Can’t anybody make a Day of the Tentacle-HD-remake? (Not like this question would have anything to do with this interview, but I felt like no interview with a Tim Schafer company could be complete without it.)
Well, we can’t do that, but we do hope that Stacking takes on the world!
Sure, there have been plenty of scary games released in time for Halloween (I remember writing this feature about them back when I worked on eu.playstation.com) but I can’t remember too many games about Halloween.
In Costume Quest, you control one of two siblings on Halloween night. Just before you set off trick-or-treating your brother or sister (depending on who you choose to play as) is kidnapped and you set off into the neighborhood to rescue them and escape a severe grounding.
On the surface, it’s an action adventure with heaps of side missions for those who explore, but it also plays with other genres in surprising ways. As you can imagine, costumes are a key part of the game and collecting new ones gives you new powers, not just when wandering around the neighborhood, but also during battle scenes, which play out like vintage turn-based RPGs set in the child’s imagination, where their cardboard box robot costume is suddenly a giant Gundam with an arsenal of rockets up its sleeve.
It’s also a really gorgeous game, with comic-style visuals that remind me a little of Fat Princess.
Costume Quest will be available from PlayStation Store from next Wednesday (20 October) and I can’t recommend it enough!
Looking for some more Brutal Legend content? You’re in luck! EA and Double Fine are announcing an upcoming DLC pack, coming soon to the PSN. Not only that, but PS3 owners will be getting some special treatment. I won’t spoil it for you — you’ll have to check out the message below.
Now that Rocktober of the year of our metal Lords 2009 is coming to a close, we at Double Fine Productions and Electronic Arts are taking the time to reflect back upon a pretty eventful year. Here are just a select few of the very many Brütal Legend highlights that have lodged into my memory banks:
1. Jack Black, Tim Schafer, and Rob Halford unveiling Brütal’s gameplay for the first time to the coalition of the willing PS3 gamers at the Spike VGAs.
5. Launch! Marketing and PR! Dancing monkeys! Jack Black makes the ultimate sacrifice to promote the game.
Skipping forward to the future, since I know fond memory #6 will be one of my highlights of the Brütal campaign:
6. Free DLC on PSN! The Tears of the Hextadon downloadable content pack launches on November 5 for the PS3…and did I mention it is FREE for two weeks exclusively on PSN?!
We love the PS3 and we’re excited that connected PS3 gamers across the world will able to enjoy 2 multiplayer maps, The Circle of Tears and Death’s Fjord, as well as the Blade of Ormagöden axe, courtesy of the fine folks at Double Fine, Sony, and EA.
We hope to see you online for a skirmish or two or three.